New state legislation allows cities, counties to regulate dispensaries

by: PAMPLIN FILE PHOTO - The Wilsonville City Council is considering adopting a one-year moratorium on medical marijuana outlets, based on new state legislation.Even though Wilsonville already has adopted new business licensing rules that effectively outlaw medical marijuana dispensaries, the city council now is preparing to take advantage of new state legislation allowing cities to enact a one-year moratorium on state-licensed outlets for the drug.

Senate Bill 1531c, approved earlier this month at the tail end of the 2014 state legislative session, still awaits Gov. John Kitzhaber’s signature. But once it takes effect, the bill will allow cities to adopt a one-year ban on registered medical marijuana outlets lasting from May 1 to May 1, 2015.

“Some of you were concerned with litigation over the business licensing,” Wilsonville City Attorney Mike Kohlhoff told city councilors at a March 17 work session. “But with this pre-emption, it gives us a pretty solid bill and I think it would give us a safe harbor for at least that year. It would be an extra arrow in the quiver of the city.”

Kohlhoff explained the legislation and noted the League of Oregon Cities already has prepared a model ordinance for cities wishing to adopt a moratorium – and there are plenty alongside Wilsonville.

Metro area cities with bans or regulations that effectively prohibit dispensaries include Fairview, Gresham, Sandy, Scappoose and Wood Village, while 15 other cities in Oregon do the same. The cities of Beaverton, Cornelius, Gladstone, Hillsboro, Milwaukie, Tualatin, Tigard and Sherwood all have enacted one-year moratoriums so far, with six others around the state following suit.

Wilsonville councilors have long been leery of allowing medical marijuana businesses to operate within city limits. They now are poised to follow the lead of other jurisdictions, probably at that body’s next scheduled meeting on April 7. The new state legislation gives cities or counties until May 1 to adopt a moratorium, no later. Any new regulations must be submitted to the Oregon Health Department by that date, Kohlhoff said.

“So am I hearing you say that you don’t see a down side to adopting this?” asked Councilor Julie Fitzgerald.

“That’s correct,” Kohlhoff answered.

“I think it sounds like a good idea,” Fitzgerald said. “There are a still a lot of gray areas regarding all of this.”

Mayor Tim Knapp noted that even if a proposed ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana use and sales qualifies for the November ballot and is approved by voters, a moratorium would give the city additional time to explore the new legal landscape.

“If there is a ballot measure in November that would kick in next year, this would still be something that would be in place through May of next year,” he said. “And would add some buffer there time wise.”

City legal staff now will prepare the necessary ordinance for a first reading at the council’s next meeting, set for April 7 at Wilsonville City Hall.

The Legislature’s action on Senate Bill 1531c comes in the wake of House Bill 3460, which was passed during the 2013 session and created the first legal framework for regulating and licensing medical marijuana dispensaries statewide. Before that, dispensaries, which remain outlawed under federal law, operated in an ad hoc fashion, with local jurisdictions deciding whether or not to allow their presence.

In some cities, such as Portland, dispensaries have spread and become an otherwise normal part of the landscape. But in the outlaying metro suburbs, that has not been the case to date.

By Josh Kulla
Assistant Editor / Photographer
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